The Cresta Run
Around the world there are about 14 Bob Runs, the oldest (and only one made of natural ice) being in St Moritz, and two natural ice Luge Runs. The last three disciplines tend to be dominated by professionals. There is only one Cresta Run. It is unique and it remains one of the last truly amateur sports. A huge Union Jack sits on the race director's building and timing building near the top of the run. A hand operated bell chimes when a rider launches himself down the course, this place breathes tradition, it exhumes elegance, a truly British institution one must visit! RAF pilots, speed demons, astronauts, race car drivers all come here to enjoy one of the last non regulated adrenaline pumping rides on earth.
The Cresta, the Bob, the Luge and Bob-Skeleton. On the Cresta Run, the rider goes down by himself on a toboggan in a lying position head-first, using rakes on the end of special boots to brake and steer. On Bob Runs, riders go down in pairs or teams of four in a metal capsule on runners. One person steers, another operates the brakes. Riders go down in a seated position. For the Luge, riders lie on their backs on a toboggan, feet first. They ride on Bob Runs and Luge Runs, both singly and in pairs. In the Bob-Skeleton individuals ride head-first, as on the Cresta, but do not use rakes. They ride on Bob Runs.
The Cresta Season
Depending on snow conditions (i.e. whether it has been cold enough to build the Run), the Cresta Run is open in the mornings from just before Christmas until the end of February/early March. At the start of the season riding is only from Junction. Riding from Top starts in mid-January. There are over thirty highly competitive races (for Members only) and riding takes place every morning of the week – weather permitting.
What sort of speeds are we talking about?
Only one rider has broken the 50 second barrier from Top: Lord Wrottesley broke James Sunley's record of 16 years' standing (50.09) on 1st February 2015 with a 49.92, and also achieved the fastest speed ever recorded of 82.87 mph. The current record from Junction, held by Johannes Badrutt, is 41.02 seconds. Beginners start from Junction and attempt to go down in a time of between 65 and 75 seconds for their first few rides.
What is Shuttlecock?
The most famous (or notorious) corner of the Run. This long, low, raking, left-hand bank, about half-way down the Run, acts as a safety-valve; if riders are out of control, they risk going out of Shuttlecock into a carefully prepared falling area of snow and straw. Fallers at Shuttlecock automatically become members of the Shuttlecock Club and are entitled to wear a Shuttlecock tie (available from the Shop in the Clubhouse). The average fall:ride ratio is approximately 1:12, although this is higher for Beginners.
The risks in riding
The whole purpose and challenge of the Run is the exercise of the skill and judgement required to negotiate the corners successfully with the minimum loss of speed and time. Thus the risk of falling, or losing control, is inherent in the sport. Because of this factor and the fact that a rider is travelling fast over an icy surface on an open toboggan, riding the Cresta Run is inherently dangerous. Certain banks are slightly convex and designed so that a rider will fall out of the Run, if he is out of control. Banks on bob and luge runs are concave and people fall within the track. A curling stone sent down a Bob Run will arrive at the finish. A curling stone sent down the Cresta Run, whether from Top or Junction, will come out at the first such opportunity. All riders ride at their own risk and must sign a liability disclaimer before riding.
Why can’t women ride?
Women rode the Cresta until the decision was taken by the Membership at the Annual General Meeting in 1929 to ban them from riding, for reasons that are not clear. The Membership has not sought to change this policy.
Royal Air Force pilots come to St Moritz to unwind. A shot of scotch to keep warm and a flat out run down the course!